No more lockdowns in order to keep the economy afloat, increased focus on the test-track-treat-contain strategy that yielded results during the first wave, shedding “Covid fatigue”, immediate steps to boost testing, and sticking to the worldwide experience of vaccine roll-out with nearly 90% of all Sars-Cov-2 victims in India over 45 years of age — these were the five major takeaways from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with chief ministers on Thursday.
NO BLANKET LOCKDONWS
The PM’s message that a lockdown was not the way to deal with the second wave, which has already crossed the peak of the first, was a significant announcement helping many to heave a sigh of relief. The economy nose-dived during last year’s lockdown, even as the government had no other option since there was no adequate testing or quarantine infrastructure at that time. People aware of the recent developments say the Centre is no more in favour of lockdowns, as the PM himself has stressed that the government is now far more prepared with testing and medical infrastructure to fight the second wave. However, night curfews could continue as a psychological measure, serving as a reminder of the virus threat and the times we are living in, though the PM has specified that such curbs should be in place from 10pm-5 am so that the impact on the economy is minimum.
WAIT FOR VACCINE TURN
Another key message was India was not doing anything different from developed countries (which are badly affected by Covid) when it came to setting the vaccination eligibility criteria. The government is going by hard statistics here — nearly 90% of all deaths in India due to Covid have happened in the age group of over 45 years. In fact, the mortality rate (those dying among those infected) of people over 45 is nearly 2.9%, which is far above India’s overall mortality rate of 1.3%.
At present, India allows vaccination for all above 45. With vaccine supplies being limited till maybe June or July before Sputnik and other vaccines get approval, the government is avoiding a panic rush for the jab. Limited availability of vaccinators is another issue. The government has also studied the vaccine roll-out pattern in the US, the UK, France, Sweden and Australia to make a case that nowhere in the world has the vaccination drive been opened for all. The aim of vaccination, the government says, is to save lives and reduce mortality. However, with greater supplies coming in over the next two-three months, and if a majority of the above 45 are vaccinated by then, the Centre is likely to bring in more age groups into the ambit.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
“We are more concerned about the nearly 650 daily fatality figure than the 1.27 lakh daily infections. It is time to go back to the drawing board, recalibrate and follow the model which was a success,” a senior official tells News18 on the PM spelling out the test-track-treat-contain model to the CMs. There is an acknowledgment that states have done well over the last one year, but some Covid-19 fatigue and complacency have set in both amongst the administrations and the people. While the lockdown last year was able to control the spread of the virus, the real trick was done by extensive testing, dutiful contact-tracing, war-scale efforts in several states, and micro-containment strategies to isolate pockets of heavy infections. The PM has asked CMs to return to the same model and put the focus back on mitigation measures against Covid-19. “Announcing a lockdown is easy but the harder way is to enforce the test-track-treat-contain model diligently,” a senior official says.
MORE ABOUT TESTING, LESS ABOUT VACCINE
The PM has also highlighted how the vaccine roll-out seems to have made states forget about testing, as the latter has dropped. Sharper has been the drop in gold standard RT-PCR tests. But the weekly test positivity rate in the first week of April stood at 8.4%, four times the weekly test positivity rate of 2.2% in the first week of March — figures that underline the seriousness of the second wave. While opposition-ruled states and the Centre are taking political pot shots at each other over vaccine supply and lowering age groups, officials say the focus should be on the alarmingly rising positivity numbers amidst decreasing tests and spiralling cases. The PM has tried to strike a conciliatory note before the CMs, saying he could see politics being played over the vaccine but he won’t say a word as he has a bigger job of fighting Covid-19 at hand.